It is possible that these tales of fubs and fumblings are apocryphal, but as they have been repeated numberless times in the comparatively closed world of the film studios, they are obviously based on true incidents. In his autobiography, David Niven doubtless added things to his tale. From Where Eagles Dare: In a beautiful dining room scene in a German castle, Ferdy Mayne plays a General complete with eyeglass and Cherman accent; with him are Richard Burton and Clint Eastwood, playing Allied paratroopers temporarily caught by the Nazis and brought before the general, who is dining. The cameras rolled; Ferdy Mayne says: “You vill be taken out and scot!’ Eastwood beside Burton began to vibrate, but Burton, straight-faced, replied, “That’s better than being stangled with piano wine’. After this Mayne, Burton and Eastwood collapsed with laughter, as did the camera and sound men.
From That’s Life: Aging Jack Lemmon and still beautiful Julie Andrews play a married couple in bed together. They have adult children, each with marriage or engagement problems. Julie decides to take Jack in her arms and soothe his nerves, and perhaps make love. Lemmon says something that clearly was not in the script: “Don’t break anything!” Julie Andrews with iron discipline managed to keep a straight face for as long (a second) as was needed to complete the shot. The crew was falling about, and after the command “cut!” Julie cried with mirth so much she had to be entirely re-made up. Mr Lemmon was very well known, like Cyril Cusack and Peter Ustinov, for ad-libbing outrageously.
From The Prisoner of Zenda: David Niven, Ronald Colman and Raymond Massey (three notorious gigglers) wait at the bottom of hundreds of wide steps in a Hollywood palace. The director has arranged for a very long shot involving a palace chamberlain who must trot down interminable stairs, stop close to the three, and whisper his line summoning them upstairs. There had been no rehearsal so the three stars were ignorant of the chamberlain’s foul halitosis. Director James Cromwell said “Action!” and the three waited as the chamberlain came flying down about four hundred steps towards them. He halted, breathing heavily, and stage-whispered his line. Niven, Colman and Massey staggered back in horror because the poor chamberlain’s breath was, according to Niven, like phosgene. Plunged in hysterics, they were angrily persuaded by Cromwell to do another expensive take but the same thing happened. This time the director hired a new chamberlain and everything went well.